Jose Berrios struck out 14 batters in his last start, and while that was against a Class AAA team — the Syracuse Chiefs, to be specific — it still caught the Twins’ attention. “We all know the expansion of the zone for Triple-A hitters is a little different than major-league hitters,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “But he showed in that start that he was pretty good with his fastball command and his breaking ball seemed a lot sharper.”
It was enough to make the Twins reconsider their plans for Berrios to start Rochester’s season finale today, especially since the Twins’ rotation would have put Pat Dean, who hasn’t pitched in a Twins victory since June 12, on the mound here. “We looked at who we’ve been putting out there, and the fact that [Berrios] had a good start right out of the chute” once he got sent down 10 days ago, Molitor said, “and we thought we’d give him another opportunity today.”
The rookie righthander has faced the Royals once, on Aug 19 at Kauffman Stadium, and didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up five hits and four walks in four innings. But Berrios is expected to be an important part of next season’s rotation, so it makes sense to live with his learning curve as a lost Twins season winds down.
While one rookie is on the mound, another will be out of the lineup for a day. Max Kepler has missed only one game since the last week of July, so he’ll get the holiday off this afternoon. It’s not a coincidence that the breather comes one day after Kepler struck out five times against the White Sox, the first Twins player to do that in 40 years.
“It was a combination of being pitched well, maybe fouling off some pitches he had a chance to hit, then having to fight with two strikes,” Molitor said. “A learning experience.”
But he’s also watching Kepler and the other young players for signs that a 162-game season is wearing on them. “We talked about the young players and the challenge of playing September baseball for the first time. I think we’ve communicated well with these guys, that we’ll try to keep them as fresh as we can,” Molitor said. “But they’re going to have to deal with a few things they haven’t experienced in the past, as far as staying strong for an extra month.”
A few more rookies will be here soon to help; Molitor said the Twins will announce their September call-ups after today’s game.
Today’s matinee opens a three-game series with the world champions. Here are the lineups for the first game:
A. Escobar SS